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A New Normal?: What We Need To Take Away From the Cape Town Water Crisis

Manak Suri

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The Cape Town water crisis is still very much in the news and there is a lot that needs to be learnt from what has been happening in the city where 4 million people are actively struggling to push backward Day Zero: the day when the city runs out of its water resources and water supply is shut all across the city. If you have been keeping up with the story, you’d probably know that Day Zero was set by the city’s authorities to occur early in April. With a combination of supervised action and good fortune, recent estimates have pushed the date by nearly two months, with Day Zero now set to occur some time in early June. However, it is still too early to celebrate for the citizens of Cape Town since the dams that account for the availability of water to the city are still at alarmingly low levels, with analysts wondering whether the increased scarcity of the essential natural resource should be treated as a new normal for the region or not. The mere thought of the same spells an apocalyptic warning for mankind, for it has been known for quite some time that the crisis being faced by Capetonians is not unique and soon the citizens of many major cities across the globe could be facing the same, albeit with differing levels of severity.

A Game of Numbers: What the Future Holds

We are made to learn in the earlier years of our schooling that water makes up nearly 70% of the earth’s surface but only 3% of it is freshwater, that is, water that we can drink. Couple that with the population boom witnessed over decades in developed and developing countries all over the world and you have statistics which suggest that a quarter of the largest 500 cities in the world are dealing with issues related to scarcity of water. Moreover, a warning has been issued by the United Nations World Water Development Report that by the year 2030 the global demand for drinking water would exceed the global supply by roughly 40% due to a combination of climate change, growth in population, and actions of humans: a daunting figure at the very least. Even today, more than one eighth of the human population lack access to safe drinking water, and on top of that another 2.7 billion people find water to be scarce at least one month of the year. Where this puts us 12 years down the line is by all standards a circumstance not pretty, and what this means for the cities touted to be next in line after Cape Town is pretty clear: save water as if your life depends on it, because it does, as put forth by former mayor of Cape Town Helen Zille on tackling the issue in her city.

The Next Cape Town: An Inevitability?

11 major cities have been identified as being the most likely to be affected by water crises, if any in the near future. The list also includes the south Indian city of Bangalore. Bangalore, known as technological hub or the silicon plateau of India, has often been touted as the country’s IT capital, and that is precisely why it is now so high up in the list of cities struggling to manage its water supply. Rapid property developments in the city along with the huge influx of people to fill up these spaces have put up immense pressure on the city’s antiquated plumbing and sewer systems. The whole system is so ineffective that it has been estimated through a national report itself that the city loses half of its water meant for drinking as waste. Rampant pollution over the years has just added to the huge challenge. Of all the lakes in the city, none are clean enough to be used for drinking or even bathing, and water from most of the lakes can be at best only used for industrial cooling and irrigation.

The list contains a total of 4 Asian cities out of 11 including Bangalore. The remaining three are also the capital cities of three of the largest Asian countries in terms of population: Beijing; the capital of China, Tokyo; the Japanese capital, and Jakarta; capital of Indonesia. While China is inhabited by nearly 20% of the world’s population, it is home to only 7% of the world’s reserves of fresh water. Like Bangalore, Beijing also suffers from high levels of water pollution which has attracted the attention of the Chinese government over the past few years. The remainder of the list includes the cities of Sao Paulo in Brazil, the Egyptian capital Cairo, the Russian capital of Moscow, Istanbul in Turkey, Mexico City, Miami: the only city from the US to make the list, and surprisingly even London, the capital of the United Kingdom. London receives an annual rainfall of only about 600mm and is dependent for most of its supply of water on the rivers Thames and Lea. It is estimated to face supply problems by the year 2025, and by the year 2040, London is on track to face serious supply shortages.

You Don’t Have to Wait, You Have to Start

The threats of water shortages are not new when you consider for how long the warnings have been in place, in the same places for all this while. Even if this is all new to you right now, there are lessons that have to be learnt from what is happening around us and it is the need of the hour to be aware and to be responsible for your actions and for those of others around you. We shouldn’t have to wait till the going gets as bad as it did in Cape Town when we can do better. The power to control/minimise the effects of water shortages is within you, and through your example and your actions it is extended to others around you. Take it upon yourself to be the person to lead the change, attaching all the more power to yourself as well.

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A student of economics with a keen eye for developments in the geopolitical sphere, Manak is a curious individual with a penchant for writing about anything that makes him ponder long enough.

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Business

Starting Your Green Construction Business: Simple Guide

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According to some analysts, the construction industry is booming. If you look beyond the developed world, you can see extraordinary growth rates. Developing countries, however, due to the increased industrialization of recent decades, are now facing environmental challenges, and are looking for greener construction solutions. If you are thinking about starting a company related to building and construction, you will need to think about the future trends, and make sure your company complies with current and future regulations. You will be responsible for training and policies, so it is important that you pay attention to every detail. Below you will find a few tips on starting your green construction business.

Study the Current Policies and Regulations

When starting a green construction business, you will need to thoroughly study the regulations that apply to your industry, your state, and your company structure. Different local governments might already have green policies and initiatives that will give you an advantage. On the other hand, you want to make sure that your new business will be able to meet the industry requirements when it comes to training, health and safety. Check out the requirements of the American Safety Council OSHA card to find out which qualifications your workers will need before you would create your company structure.

Invest in Technology

Green technology is constantly developing, and chances are that there are several companies on the market offering different solutions. If you would like to beat the competition, you might need to develop your own materials and work processes. If you are able to team up with engineers who are familiar with the latest trends and can spot opportunities, you can offer something unique for your business partners.

Recruit the Right People

It is also important that you find the right people for each job. Look for individuals who have similar values and visions, and embrace green ideas in the construction business. There is no way you can change the mindset of people, so it might be a good idea to provide your own training and recruit newly qualified talent, instead of workers who are already used to using traditional materials, approaches, and technologies. Your main assets will be your people, so you need to design your talent pool to meet the expectations of your customers and the needs of your company.

Develop Research Partnerships

If you don’t have the right people to research future technologies and new materials, you might decide to enter a partnership with your local college or university. If you invest in their research projects and work with them, you can take advantage of groundbreaking inventions that will help your business prosper while providing students with an opportunity to explore different opportunities to make future buildings more efficient and greener. No matter if you would like to develop your own materials or reduce the carbon footprint of your operations, you can find partners if you contact local educational institutions.

Create a Strategic Plan

No business can survive without a sound strategy. As a green construction business, you will need to integrate efficiency and carbon footprint reduction in every part of your strategic business plan. Consult with a professional advisor, and study various national and local policies that can give you ideas on creating your own competitive plan to turn future buildings greener. Check out the European green initiatives that are leading the way for the rest of the world.

Green Policies

When building a green organization, it is important that you adopt green policies in your company. From providing your staff with training on how to save energy and look after the environment, reduce waste, dispose of toxic materials, to targets and process manuals, there are several ways you can get your workers to jump on board and embrace your ideas.

Measurable Goals

With every business strategy, you need to develop measurable goals. You cannot simply say that you would like to reduce your company’s use of water and other natural resources: you must state by when and by how much. This will help you create targets for each worker and team, and meet the expectations of your market and your industry.

Design a Green Supply Chain

In the construction industry, it is important that you make your supply chain efficient. When you want to make your supply chain greener, it is even more important. From choosing the right suppliers to make sure that your materials are not traveling more than necessary, and you are focusing on waste reduction, to educating your workers on green and efficient practices, there are several ways you can design a supply chain that is not only good for the environment, but also for your financial budget.

Government Collaboration

When experimenting with new materials and production methods, it is important that you build strong links with government organizations, so you can be aware of the future policies and trends that will shape your industry. You can join an industry organization, and find out about the new policies and government targets as soon as possible, so you can tailor your strategy to the future policy developments.

Create a Shared Vision

When creating an innovative green construction business model, it is important that you effectively communicate your vision and mission with all stakeholders. Make sure that you are on the same page, and your suppliers, business partners, and customers are fully aware of your company’s policies and initiatives. Engage with your stakeholders by communicating your company’s plans and strategies to create more efficient buildings that serve communities better.

Some experts say that green supply chains and construction models are the future, and innovation can help organizations achieve their goals while reducing their cost and carbon footprint. If you are committed to environmental goals and would like your business model to reflect your values, you will need to build positive relationships with government organizations, employees, customers, and research facilities, so you can achieve your goals faster. An efficient business and a green supply chain can also provide you with a competitive advantage on the market.

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The Technology Helping to Control Air Pollution in the 21st Century

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From Warsaw to Beijing and from Johannesburg to London, air pollution is an all-important issue. In this article we’re going to discuss what is being done about it, specifically looking at the technology and techniques involved. These range from pollution control systems like wet and dry scrubbers to the use of greener technology such as electric cars.

Wet Scrubbing

Specialist environmental engineering and contracting firms such as ERG are leading the way in controlling air pollution, utilising a variety of methods to tackle the problem at its source. Just one of the techniques they use is wet scrubbing, which remove pollutants from a gas stream by bringing the pollutants into contact with a reactive liquid solution. This is used with success for cleaning:

  • Air;
  • Fuel gas;
  • Toxic or corrosive gases;
  • Dust particles.

The scrubbing solution can range from water, which is used for dust, to any number of reagents that target chemical compounds which could go on to pollute the atmosphere.

Dry Scrubbing

This is a cleaning process which does not saturate the gas stream with moisture, but rather uses solid material. Dry scrubbing is usually divided into two categories, representing the most common techniques used:

1)    Dry sorbent injectors (DSIs), which add alkaline material such as soda ash or hydrated lime into the gas stream to react with the acidic polluting material;

2)    Spray dryer absorbers (SDAs), which add the gases to be scrubbed into a dryer (also known as an absorbing tower), where they come into contact with an alkaline slurry that has been finely atomised.

Electrostatic Precipitation

This is the process in which particulate collection devices remove particles from the air, or another gas, using the power of an induced electrostatic charge. Electrostatic precipitators are considered to be very efficient when it comes to the consumption of electricity, as they only target the particles to be removed.

Electric Vehicles

Unlike the other methods on this list, electric cars do not actively remove air impurities. Rather, they deal with the prevention of pollution. In contrast to cars relying on internal combustion engines, these do not create harmful exhaust emissions such as:

  • Lead;
  • Ozone;
  • Carbon monoxide;
  • Particulates such as soot;
  • Hydrocarbons;
  • Nitrogen.

We have looked at three methods of removing pollution from the air, along with one method of prevention. When it comes to technology, these represent the tip of the iceberg, but they should give a good introduction when it comes to how we are working to combat this worldwide issue.

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Day Zero: A Desperate Warning from Cape Town to the World

Manak Suri

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The unpreparedness of the human race has slowly but steadily come to the surface over the previous decade when it comes to ensuring our own survival and more importantly, that of the following generations. Before we even attempt to realize the impacts of climate change that are thrown into the faces of some community who then serve as the unfortunate examples of what’s going to happen, another repercussion pops up into the frame at the cost of another unsuspecting community, a country, or even a city. The city of Cape Town in South Africa serves as the most recent of those examples, and the crisis in the city bodes an ultimatum like never before to other thriving cities on the planet: mend your ways or follow suit.

“Day Zero”: as dire as it sounds

The event currently underway in Cape Town could be aptly described as probably its worst drought in nearly a century, one that has seen its people and authorities struggle to obtain water in the wake of depleting natural sources in order to sustain even their daily hygiene rituals. The city is quickly closing in on what has been dubbed as “Day Zero“: the day when the city will run out of its water. When that happens, it would be the first occurrence of such an event for a major global city. “Day Zero”, originally estimated to occur on April 22, was more recently moved up to April 12 with Cape Town’s 4 million strong population finding it difficult to adjust to the demands of reduced consumption.

A point of no return, is it?

The authorities, including city mayor Patricia de Lille have urged citizens to restrict their usage to 50 litres per person a day with effect from February 1 to accommodate the shortage and help prevent the situation take a turn for the worse. However, most citizens have been ignorant of these warnings in the past month and have irresponsibly consumed more than 87 litres per day, the restricted amount in place till the end of January. “It is quite unbelievable that a majority of people do not seem to care and are sending all of us headlong towards Day Zero” she said, adding, “We have reached a point of no return.”

Despite the comments of the mayor, it can be safely mentioned that many people of the city are realizing the weight of the crisis, and have begun to get creative with the different ways in which they can collect and reuse water in order to restrict their consumption to the stipulated limit and escape hefty fines. Long queues to purchase bottled water for household consumption in supermarkets has also become a common sight over the weeks.

Former mayor Helen Zille, who will also direct the disaster management response on the arrival of Day Zero has sounded hopeful, going so far as to say that Day Zero can be avoided should everyone realize the implications and make a concerted effort towards conserving water. “That is not difficult if we all put our minds to it in our homes and in our workplaces,” she said of the situation. Ms. Zille, along with other officials have provided tips to the people for saving water and getting the maximum use out of the water that they use: turning off the taps of toilet cisterns and using the grey water from washing in the toilets instead and showering less often. “No one should be showering more than twice a week at this stage. You need to save water as if your life depends on it because it does” were her words.

Not a crisis out of thin air

The crisis that the people in Cape Town are facing is not sudden by any standards. In fact, first warnings against the occurring were given out in the 1990s which were largely ignored. One main factor identified behind the crisis and its scale is the city’s population of about 4 million individuals, which has seen a high rate of growth over the years and is still growing strongly. Coupled with the drought that the population is currently facing, the strain on the resources for water has increased. South Africa hasn’t received sufficient rainfall for three years now. The drought in turn arises from climate change and the El Nino effect. There are six dams that supply water to the city and are currently 25.8 per cent full. The figure stood at 85% in 2014 and 38.4% a year ago.

What the dawn of Day Zero would mean for the people of Cape Town

On the dawn of Day Zero, Capetonians would be allowed just 25 litres of water per person a day, or roughly 7 gallons. To put that into perspective, you can take the average amount of water that Americans use: 80 to 100 gallons. A single flush of a toilet amounts to 2 gallons, and a 90 second shower could use up 4 gallons. To keep the restrictions in check,  most taps in the city would be switched off and residents will have to get their daily share of water from any one of 200 allocated points in the city. Plans are also being made to store emergency water in military installations. The sooner the city head towards Day Zero, the sooner Capetonians will need to prepare for a new lifestyle, one that is significantly astray from that of entitlement that we all are living in right now. The crisis in Cape Town is a crystal clear warning to us, and one that will likely be not be given the consideration it is due.

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